A farmer from Charlotte, Michigan, USA, has broken the heaviest butternut squash record with a gourd weighing a remarkable 104.5 pounds (47.4 kg).
That’s equal to the weight of about eight average-sized pumpkins!
On 1 October 2022, Derek Ruthruff claimed the record title after it was measured at Dundee’s Pumpkin Palooza in Dundee, Michigan, USA, and verified by representatives from the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.
Botanically classified as Cucurbita Moschata, butternut squash is a typically peanut-shaped fruit (though, of course, we enjoy it as a vegetable), usually ranging in size from about 3 to 5 pounds (1.3 to 2.2 kg).
The squash was grown using a seed from the former record-breaking butternut weighing 55.5 pounds (25.1 kg), which was cultivated by Christopher Brown in 2020.
The gigantic squash was planted on 15 April 2022 and pollinated just over three months later, on 21 July 2022.
At just 72 days old, Derek knew he had record-breaking produce on his hands and harvested it in time for the competition.
Derek, who has been competitively growing Atlantic Giant Pumpkins for four years, wanted to set the record as an example to his children that if you set your heart on something and put in the effort, anything is possible.
Although he isn’t new to growing super-sized vegetables and has even grown a pumpkin weighing 1,778.5 pounds (806.7 kg), it was after watching Christopher initially grow his gargantuan gourd that Derek decided to attempt the record himself.
"I have always loved butternut squash," said Derek.
"Combining my love of butternut and my passion for growing giant vegetables, I wanted to grow the largest butternut squash possible."
Having grown up with a "decent-sized garden" when he was a child, horticulture became one of Derek’s greatest passions.
Today, he has a large competition patch covering two plots on his own property covering half an acre (0.20 hectares). Half of that space is reserved for cultivating winter squash.
But what does Derek do with all that veg?
"My wife is an incredible chef and has never made a squash dish I didn’t like," said Derek.
"Winter squash is one of my favourite foods, especially when it’s oven roasted with onions, carrots, and garlic."
Derek grew the burly butternut using the same methods he uses to grow his Atlantic Giant Pumpkins for competition.
But growing massive vegetables isn’t as easy as it looks, with the most challenging aspect being the time and dedication required.
"Plant maintenance from weeding to vine training is time consuming and requires daily inputs," said Derek.
"Missing a few days of vine maintenance during peak growth will leave you with a tangled mess of vines."
The season begins with soil sampling and significant groundwork to loosen up the soil.
Next, the soil is amended based on the results from the soil sample before the plant is transplanted out.
Once transplanted, in-ground soil heating cables and miniature hoop houses are used to keep the plant and ground warm as frost protection and to allow for early planting.
Derek then prunes the vines so that the plant’s energy is used as efficiently as possible.
The record-breaking squash was hand pollinated to control its genetics and position on the vine, and the fruit was set about 20 feet (6.09 metres) from the crown on the main vine and all growth terminated.
A special hammock was built for the butternut made of trampoline fabric and boards to keep the fruit off the ground and allow air flow.
Sheets and shades were also used to protect it from the sun; a method which keeps the skin soft and prevents splits from happening during rapid growth.
All other fruit were then removed from the plant to maximize the growth of the squash only. At this point, the fruit was ripe and ready for picking.
Derek, his wife Erin and his mother Jeanna weighed the super-sized squash on a bathroom scale before transporting it to Dundee’s Pumpkin Palooza.
He had asked them not to tell him how much it weighed if it was over 90 pounds (40.8 kg), so he didn’t realize the weight of the crop until it was placed on one of the scales at the competition.
In Derek's family, growing supersized veg seems to be catching on.
"My mother Jeanna started growing competition vegetables last year with me, apparently it’s slightly contagious."
"She grew a 56 pound butternut, two 800 pound pumpkins and a beautiful giant squash.
"Our daughter Ellie also grew her very own giant watermelon this year at the age of 5. She grew a 94 pound watermelon entirely by herself!"
Derek admitted that this year’s increase in disease pressure and early high heat set his growing back by nearly a month.
"Towards the end of season, I wasn’t as confident that we could break the 100-pound (45.3 kg) barrier but thankfully the moschata species is forgiving," said Derek.
"Given that this is a less popular fruit, estimating the weight before she hit the scale was difficult. It was a huge relief when we found out that we broke the record set a week prior by just 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg)."
Derek plans on breaking his current record for the heaviest butternut squash once again next year, but first intends to figure out what to do with the current record holder.
"The squash is still intact and riding around with me in my truck. The plan is to find a qualified chef with a large enough oven to bake the monster," he said.
"Maybe we can set another record for the largest stuffed squash, or the most people fed with a single squash while we’re at it."
It's just about record-breaking butternut squashes for Derek, though.
"If we find another record within our grasp you can bet we’ll take a shot at it!"
Other record-breaking fruits and veggies:• Heaviest squash – Weighs 2,164 lb (981.57 kg) and was grown by Todd and Donna Skinner (both USA).
Curious as to how much skill and dedication it takes to cultivate record-breaking fruits and vegetables?
Check out our behind-the-scenes documentary on the Malvern National Giant Vegetables Championships.